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Evaluating systems change and place-based approaches – Online Course – November, 2019

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Lesson 8, Topic 47
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Purpose of MSC in monitoring and evaluation Copy

Aliki September 23, 2019

Reasons for organisations to use MSC

  • It helps them to identify unexpected positive or negative impacts.
  • It helps them to identify the values that prevail in an organisation and to discuss at all levels which of those values are most important.
  • It is a participatory form of monitoring that requires no special professional skill, it is easy to communicate across cultures and it’s a great entry method into qualitative methods.
  • It encourages analysis as well as data collection because people have to explain why they believe some impacts are more in line with the organisational mission than others.
  • It builds staff capacity in analysing data and conceptualising impact.
  • It delivers a rich picture of what is happening, rather than reducing developments to single numbers.
  • It can be used to monitor and evaluate bottom-up initiatives that do not have predefined outcomes to use in evaluation.

MSC can be used in two different ways:

  1. As an ongoing monitoring system with regular cycles of collection and selection, such as every three months.
  2. As a one-off assessment and sense-making process as part of an evaluation study.  

There are benefits and drawbacks to each use.


MSC was originally conceived for use as a monitoring tool for ongoing monitoring of a project. Some people call it impact monitoring for this reason. Monitoring tends to be:

  • Ongoing collection of information
  • Primarily for project management and refinement

The benefits of using MSC in an evaluation context with a  single cycle approach include:

  • Has greater potential to build capacity of staff
  • Provides more immediate information about impact
  • Encourages more regular reflection
  • Fosters ownership of monitoring and evaluation by staff

However, the resources and time required to implement MSC on such a regular basis means that it may not be practical to maintain it at this frequency.


You might instead (or also!) use the MSC technique as one part of a project evaluation study.

Evaluation studies tend to:

  • Be done less frequently than monitoring; generally once every two or three years (coinciding with a midterm or final evaluation)
  • Be more analytical – involves judgments of merit or worth
  • Often result in an evaluation report

In an evaluation, MSC is used as one line of inquiry and is only done once, often with a large group story selection process in a workshop setting.

The benefits of using MSC in an evaluation context with a longer cycle approach include:

  • It can create momentum and a renewed commitment to the project
  • It can be less time consuming
  • It allows analysis of change over a longer period of time, and therefore the impact may be more substantial
  • It can be combined immediately with other types of data to answer bigger evaluation questions

The major downside of using MSC for evaluation is the missed opportunity of making course corrections throughout the year.

Whether it’s being used for monitoring or evaluation, MSC is not a stand-alone technique, but an important additional tool. It should fill the gaps and complement the other methods you are using.

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Dr Jess Dart

CEO & Founder

Inventor of practical methodologies and highly demanded facilitator, Jess navigates complexity with comfort and helps her clients to become clear about their desired outcomes and how to get there.

Recipient of the 2018 AES Award for outstanding contribution to evaluation, Jess has over 25 years experience in evaluating and designing social change initiatives and strategies in Australia and overseas.

In October 2005, Jess founded Clear Horizon Consulting and is now CEO. She is also a board member of the Australasian Evaluation society.

Jess is passionate about developing and designing real world evaluation and strategy for social justice and sustainability. She particularly works with systems change interventions, large scale strategy and social innovation. After completing her PhD she co-authored the Most Significant Change (MSC) guide alongside Dr Rick Davies, which is now translated into 12 different languages.

MSC is well suited to evaluation in the complex emergent context. The latest innovation by Jess, Collaborative Outcomes Reporting (COR), is a collaborative form of impact evaluation.

Jess is also an active mum and has two teenage boys. In a quiet moment, she loves reading far-future science fiction and enjoys long distance running.

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